The Un-Silent Generation

It’s funny that one of the oldest living, yet still quite relevant, generations is called the Silents (1928-1945). That is such an amazing misnomer when one looks at the individuals who have defined that generation. Consider the single greatest religious right mastermind in recent American politics, Paul Weyrich, who was the leading figure behind the culture wars, Moral Majority foundation, and the right-wing Shadow Network. He may not have been out in the public limelight, but he was never silent and his voice carried in the halls of power. Still other Silents like the plutocrats Rupert Murdoch and Charles Koch continue to have an outsized influence over the American mind and society, as never before seen.

Yes, the Silents have often been overshadowed by the media and political narratives spun around the generations immediately preceding and following them, the Greatest Generation (or G.I. Generation) and the Boomer Generation. It’s true that the main conflict they fought in, the Korean War, never received much attention; in the way did World War II and the Vietnam War, although many Silents were among the military and political leadership during the latter. Yet even as they haven’t had one of their own elected president until Joe Biden, he is our current president and the oldest ever to assume office. Likewise, although they lost majority in Congress some years back, Silents nonetheless maintain key positions of power not only with the presidency but also with several major political elites like John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Anthony Fauci, and Bernie Sanders; and that is only to list the Democrats (The Dying Donkey). Both parties are held captive by the elderly.

Some Silents like Weyrich operated more in the background, but plenty were out in the open and hard to ignore, for good or ill. Far from being silent or silenced, they possibly have been the loudest generation, not to mention maybe the most powerful and influential (as many are still among the ruling elite). Also, despite being portrayed as moderate and modest, their generational cohort includes plenty who were far left radicals and far right extremists, along with some who were downright demented and dangerous. More importantly, they are the single longest ruling generation in American history, a title that is often wrongly given to Boomers. The Silents’ collective voice is still with us and regularly heard in the corporate media and coming out of Washington, D.C. That’s impressive for a demographic consisting mostly of people in their 80s and 90s.

It goes far beyond political and corporate control. Don’t forget that much of the music that defined the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s was produced not by Boomers but by Silents. They comprise some of the greatest Rock ‘n Roll legends of all time, people who back in the day disturbed their elder’s peace of mind in being a part of the soundtrack of youthful rebellion and revolt, not to mention Elvis Presley’s provocatively gyrating hips that shocked a nation — people were easily shocked in the good ol’ days. It’s similar to how many of the cultural and activist leaders of of that era, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Timothy Leary, were also of that not so silent generation. The Sixties that gets blamed on Boomers would not have happened without the so-called Silents’ widespread influence and inspiration. Many of them were radical voices of protest, critique, and demand during one of the most tumultuous periods in American history. That isn’t even to discuss the great writers and artists that came out of that generation, some of them with wild and crazy imaginations or else intellectual and psychological insight, social critique and commentary; not to mention diverse public intellectuals.

There is a diversity of Silents who were famous or infamous icons, terrorists, activists, leaders, politicians, public intellectuals, influencers, writers, musicians, artists, and stars. Besides those already mentioned, here is a small selection:

  • Che Guevara (if not American), Jim Jones, Charles Manson, Ted Kaczynski, and Sirhan Sirhan;
  • Bernie Madoff, Jack Welch, Sheldon Adelson, Colin Powell, Ross Perot, Norman Schwarzkopf, Oliver North, Bob Woodward, Jim Bakker, Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell, and John McCain;
  • Warren Buffett, George Soros, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Walter Mondale, Madeleine Albright, Ted Kennedy, Harry Reid, Harvey Milk, Ralph Nader, and Noam Chomsky;
  • Jack Kevorkian, Larry Flynt, Gloria Steinem, Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Ken Kesey, Tom Wolfe, Flannery O’Connor, J. G. Ballard, Margaret Atwood, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, Jim Henson, Fred Rogers, Muhammad Ali, Louis Farrakhan, and Wavy Gravy;
  • Jane Goodall, Andy Warhol, Barbara Streissand, Jane Fonda, Joan Baez, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia, Bill Cosby, Patrick Stewart, George Takei, Barbara Walters, Joan Rivers, Jerry Springer, and Geraldo Rivera;
  • Et cetera.

Many others were born on the cusp at either side of the somewhat arbitrary generational bracket, some right at the edge and even more a few years shy — some definitions of the Silent Generation put the starting point at 1925, which would include the likes of Malcolm X and Gore Vidal. For a more recent example, if President Donald Trump had been born 6 months earlier, he would be labeled a Silent. And Hillary Clinton is just slightly over a year past the generational demarcation. Among the most represented in power are more than a few first wave Boomers who basically had the same life experience as Silents in having had grown up in the stultifying Fifties and reached adulthood before to the Sixties heated up (e.g., Hillary Clinton began her political aspirations as an Eisenhower Republican). So, combined with the Biden presidency (along with the continuing influence of Murdoch, Koch, Soros, Gingrich, Cheney, McConnell, Pelosi, Fauci, Sanders, etc), the most recent years of political rule has been largely dominated by the Silent Generation and their age adjacent peers, with the younger generations having a hard time breaking into power or gaining representation.

Rather than having been silent all these decades, one wonders when they’ll finally become silent. They are maintaining significant control during this transformative period of the Fourth Turning (Neil Howe and William Strauss), from which will follow a new generational cycle (approximately 80 years) and the establishment of the hold on the sociopolitical order, handing over the reigns of power in determining who will be their ideological heirs (e.g., in having helped to pick the present crop of Supreme Court ‘Justices’). That means they’ll have disproportionate influence in shaping society for the rest of this century. No one is against old people from having a voice, but it is a problem when they silence the youth voice. The main problem, of course, is not that they are senior citizens; rather, how reactionary that generation has become over time. For too many Silents, their position for a long time has simply been a defense of their power and the benefits they’ve accrued, at the cost and sacrifice of the rest of society.

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